Southern Love in Your Tummy: North Carolina Barbecue
North Carolinians are serious about barbecue. Now in North Carolina, when you talk about barbecue, you are referring to a specific product – chopped or pulled pork in a vinegar-based barbecue sauce. There are various recipes for the sauce and accoutrements throughout the state, but having grown up in the Piedmont area of the state, I am partial to what they call Lexington style.
The Lexington style sauce is tangy and spicy (but not too spicy for hot spice wimps like me) and just slightly sweet. It is a thin sauce that is unlike the thick sweet barbecue sauces you find in the grocery store. After trying this sauce, you may never want to go back to the standard barbecue sauce again!
Most NC barbecues are served with cole slaw, but the Lexington Style is known for serving a special vinegar based cole slaw commonly referred to as BBQ Slaw. This slaw is spicy and tangy and in my mind, at least, is a must have when eating barbecue.
The other delectable delights served with barbecue are hush puppies. What are hush puppies? No we are not talking about suede shoes! We are talking about delectable little fried cornbread nuggets. The story behind the name is that long ago, southern cooks would throw the little nuggets of fried cornbread to the dogs to hush them while they cooked to stop the puppies from begging – thus the name, “Hush Puppies.”
Dinners at home, festivals and friendly gatherings in North Carolina often include barbecue. In any given city you will find several restaurants dedicated to serving it. Just how to cook and serve barbecue is widely debated throughout the state, and one could have a very nice time just traveling from town to town exploring all of the variations. Still, in my opinion the Lexington style is the best.
When I moved to California and was unable to have barbecue, I wanted to learn how to make it myself, but never took the time. When we moved back to North Carolina and I could get Smithfield style barbecue (very similar sauce, but served with a creamy vinegar slaw) I never bothered either – it was not quite as good, but good enough. When we moved to Tennessee and found the barbecue being served with a thick red sauce or a very sweet vinegar sauce, we were determined to conquer making Lexington style barbecue at home.
For our family Christmas gathering last year we decided we would be different and make barbecue. Everyone had definitely had their fill of turkey and ham so this idea went over well. I searched for recipes online and let everyone know we would be guinea pigs since this was our first time trying this. We had been told that the pork shoulder could be roasted in the oven instead of on a grill, but my sister, Paula Dukes, had an idea to use her large crock-pot. It worked well and gave us very tender and moist meat. We have played around with the recipes and now feel ready to share them with all of Gather.
Lexington Style BBQ Sauce
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
Combine all ingredients except sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer and stir in sugar until dissolved. Makes enough for 5-7 lbs of meat.
The meat should be a pork shoulder or Boston butt pork roast. Grill, roast in oven, or cook in a crock-pot until meat registers at least 165 degrees F and can easily be pulled apart and chopped. You can baste the meat with sauce as it cooks. Plan on allowing 3-6 hours for the meat to cook, depending on size. We cooked a 21 lb pork shoulder in a large crock-pot for about 3 hours. Grilling will take longer but will give a better flavor.
After the meat is cooked, pull it apart into chunks and cut away excess fat. Then use a meat cleaver to chop the meat. The meat will shred as you chop it. Add sauce to the meat and serve additional sauce on the side for those who prefer more. We froze one half of the 21 lb shoulder and served it again last Sunday. Two batches of sauce were used for each half with a little bit left over.
The meat can be eaten on a hamburger bun with or without slaw, or without a bun. I prefer it off a bun since you also have the hushpuppies. I’d rather fill up on those than a bun! I also feel you can appreciate the flavors of the meat and slaw better without the addition of the bun. Try it both ways and see what you like best.
Lexington Style Slaw
1 lb bag tri-colored cole slaw mix (or 1 lb shredded cabbage)
3 tablespoons ketchup
4 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (can increase for spicier flavor)
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (can increase for spicier flavor)
Mix all ingredients and refrigerate for least 20 minutes before serving.
We doubled this recipe and had plenty to match up to the amount of meat we served (about 10 ½ lbs of meat). It is definitely better to give this time to marinate – it tastes even better the next day. I really likes the combination of the pork and slaw together, and recommend if you are not eating it on a bun with the slaw, try combining the slaw and barbecue in one bite. The crunchy coolness of the slaw is a great combination with the soft spicy barbecue.
And keep in mind for both the sauce and slaw, don’t be afraid to play with the amounts of spices. Start with the amounts listed in these recipes for a fairly mild base, and then slowly add more until it fits your personal likings. We placed the ground red pepper, red pepper flakes and some hot sauces (Tabasco or Texas Pete are popular additions) on the table to allow others to kick up their own servings if desired.
Aunt Ginny’s Hush Puppies
2 cups self-rising corn meal
3/4 cup self-rising flour
3/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Mix all ingredients with a fork. Drop by rounded spoonfuls into hot oil. Cool until golden brown. Remove to paper towels to drain and add additional salt if desired. Serve with ketchup or eat plain.
My Aunt Ginny was one of the best cooks I have ever known, so when I found her hush puppy recipe I knew I had to try them. Let me tell you, they are to die for, and not only will they hush puppies, they will hush your family too as they devour them. You may want to make two batches! There will be no leftovers. We will never use a box recipe again. These are also commonly served with fried seafood in the south. One batch served five people with no leftovers (each person had about 3-5).
I hope you have enjoyed reading about this North Carolina traditional food – barbecue. I encourage you to give it a try. It is not as hard as it may sound, and is really good! It is definitely a little Southern Love in Your Tummy! And if you are ever in North Carolina be sure to look for a barbecue restaurant to get to try the real thing! I can recommend several, based on the area of the state. Just drop me a note and I’ll be glad to help you out!
Ya’ll come back now, because there are more recipes to come from this good ol’ southern girl!
Check out all of Monica Kennedy’s great recipes in her series: Southern Love in Your Tummy
NOTE: It was suggested that I try this with a pork tenderloin instead. I tried it out and man was it easy and good! The meat pulled apart by hand (no cleaver needed!) and was much leaner (and a bit dryer too, but just add more sauce).
GOT LEFTOVERS? Try: